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Review: Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Balance wireless speaker

Review: Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Balance wireless speaker
5 - 1 review

The BeoSound Balance is the latest creation by Bang & Olufsen. Don't feel like a futuristic wireless speaker that marred your rooms? Then this luxurious Scandinavian design topper with Chromecast and AirPlay 2 might be something for you. The price tag on the level of a better design furniture is part of it.

Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Balance

If you are looking for a speaker that absolutely does not look like a speaker, then Bang & Olufsen is always the right choice. at the right place. The Danes have always been trendsetters in terms of design – or better: they tried to do that by unleashing a trend with their own hands, with varying degrees of success. Just think of a device like the B&O BeoPlay A9 the vase-like BeoSound 2, the round BeoSound Edge, the very unconventional BeoLab 90 or the subtle Shape system for on a wall. The wireless Balance speaker we are looking at here, which at first sight resembles an elegant scandi-design table lamp, undoubtedly belongs in this row of eye-catchers. Although it is slightly more subtle and organic than some of the more futuristic products that Bang & Olufsen released in the past.

The BeoSound Balance is different, but it is not. The high-quality finish in premium materials and luxurious fabrics have always been part of the B&O DNA – as has a price tag that is a bit higher than products from rivals Sonos and Harman Kardon. Remarkable: there are two versions of the Balance, with and without a microphone for the Google Assistant. Both versions are available in two color editions (although we are not sure whether you can purchase the sans Assistant version in the Benelux). Whichever of the four you choose, the price of the BeoSound Balance remains the same: 2,000 euros.

Luxury Beast

How did Bang & Olufsen ensure that a speaker disappears into your interior? Quite simply put: by giving the Balance a shape that is initially reminiscent of a graceful lamp. Put this unit on a sideboard or a side table and most visitors who see it will unsuspectingly assume it gives light. The BeoSound Balance does not do that; it is not a Danish luxury alternative to the IKEA Symfonisk table lamp . Only music comes out.

Two thousand euros is not nothing, of course, but in terms of appearance you get something in return. The round base of our test device is finished with a very beautiful light-tinted oak veneer, bordered at the top by a perforated circle made of aluminum. This metal bowl is finished in a matte gold rose – presumably anodized, because B&O loves that method. It does it in-house and is so good at it that this production line also produces dashboard elements for high-end Audi. It is a finish that matches perfectly with the wooden base. And with the main part of the speaker that, as it were, sprouts from this base and is covered with a Scandinavian gray-accented fabric from Kvadrat. At the top we see a large circle of gold rose colored aluminum again.

The whole construction is perfectly put together: no screw or bolt in sight, with seamless transitions and with finely finished details. For example, the top contains a series of subtly arranged touch buttons. Well done, because the buttons are so discreet that you cannot see them from a distance. That keeps the design of the device nicely “technical”. When you get closer with your finger, the buttons light up a bit. The connections are also conveniently hidden in a niche at the bottom, making cable management very easy. Speaking of cables: B&O also supplies a suitable power cable, finished with an appropriate fabric sheath. We spontaneously ask ourselves: why don't more brands do this? The only other speaker we know so well are the Symfonisk devices, not coincidentally from a furniture manufacturer. Ultimately, such a black power cable often disfigures the design of a device and your interior, so why not? A fabric jacket can only increase the production cost by a few tens of cents, so the threshold for builders of consumer electronics is not exactly high.

Do you want to place the BeoSound Balance in a corner? Keep in mind that this speaker is not that small or light. You have to provide a sturdy piece of furniture, you are not going to put it on a small bookshelf somewhere.

Set via Google or Apple

Just like many other speakers and soundbars nowadays, the BeoSound Balance relies on Google software to connect to the WiFi network. If you prefer, you can also plug in an Ethernet cable. There is even a second port, so you can loop through a network connection to another device. A second Balance that you use in a stereo pair, for example. But given the design approach of this speaker, we suspect that everyone will just choose WiFi to avoid cables.

Should you use Googe Home? Not necessarily, because like the most recent B&O speakers, the Balance is also AirPlay 2 compatible. That means you can also configure the speaker via the settings of a more recent iOS device (iPhone or iPad), which may seem more logical to someone who is in the Apple ecosystem. That is even faster than via Google Home, but you will miss the link with Google Assistant and you will still have to bring Home up if you ever want to use Chromecast .

It is also through the Home app that new firmware for the Balance is introduced. That was also the case during testing. Immediately after setting up the B&O speaker, we received a message to signal that new software was available. A minute or two later and the update was fine.

Some devices, such as Harman Kardons Citation speakers keep it that way. Everything you do in terms of streaming and multiroom, you do via the Google Home app. With the Balance (and Bang & Olufsen products in general) you have additional functions in addition to the options that Google Home offers. And you can find and operate it via the Bang & Olufsen app (iOS and Android), a free app that is offered to you after setting up the BeoSound Balance in Home. The B&O app is no stranger to us, as we immediately recognize it from the previous tests of the BeoSound Stage soundbar and the BeoPlay A9 speaker. If you have other B & O appliances at home, they will appear in the app together with the Balance. A nice detail: you really see your device, in the color version you have chosen. In any case, read the A9 review to discover a bit more about the multiroom functions via this app.

Adapts

Installing the B&O app is recommended because you then get additional options to adjust the sound to your taste. With this speaker there is more to say in this area than with the A9 that we confess earlier this year, which again has to do with the round design of the BeoSound Balance.

The first thing you really have to do when you use the B&O speaker in place, optimizing the sound for the room and where you put it in that space. After all, these things influence the sound character. Sometimes in a drastic way. For example, think of how a speaker sounds in a very large empty room or in a small bathroom with tiles – the room does a lot. The Balance tries to combat that room influence through a built-in calibration function, similar to Sonos' Trueplay or similar functions found in more and more sound bars.

The calibration function is not difficult to use. It plays a three-second test tone to determine the correct situation and what adjustments are needed. Does it yield anything? You will discover this immediately when you play some music, because in the app you can switch the correction on and off by long pressing on the speaker. That makes comparing easy. The most important thing the Balance room calibration tries to discover is whether the speaker is close to a wall or completely free. This placement relative to a wall influences the strength of the basses. We also got the impression that the speaker in the two rooms in which we placed it also eliminates a room mode (in which a certain bass frequency is amplified by the shape of the room). That is a useful thing that immediately makes your music more detailed and especially the bass less woolly.

The Balance's chamber measurement tries to eliminate acoustic problems, but that is not quite the same as creating an ideal sound. Bang & Olufsen has his view on that (and what is ideal turns out to be subjective), but if you want something different you can select other sound modes via the app. If you want to go one step further, you can create your own sound mode via a circular equalizer that is easy to use. B&O has also provided a dash of explanation in human language so that non-audiophiles also know what a change is doing. Good to know: not only can you move a sphere within a circle that is divided into four quadrants, you can also squeeze with two fingers to further influence the sound.

Finally in the app yet another option: how the Balance emits sound. You have four choices: left or right, straight ahead or 360 ° around the speaker. The effect is immediately noticeable and useful if you put the Balance in an unconventional place. By the way, you can form a stereo pair with two Balance speakers, then this function is also useful. We only had one Balance in the test room; We have therefore not tested the stereo function. But common sense and experience shows that stereo with discrete speakers always delivers a huge improvement. In this case, the step to stereo does of course carry a hefty price tag.

These functions are immediately proof that with a smart acoustic design and a DSP you can do clever things that cannot be done with an ordinary speaker. . This is the philosophy that Bang & Olufsen has embraced a long time ago – and why the Danish brand hardly offers passive speakers anymore.

In all directions

While listening to the brilliant remaster of 'Abbey Road' that appeared last year, we immediately notice something typical of wide-radiating speakers like this. Consider, for example, the Sonos Move or the Bose Revolve devices. They fill the room with sound. That expression is often used with ordinary speakers to indicate that they radiate wide, but with a device like this it means something else. The Balance (in its omnidirectional mode) can be even wider than a classic speaker. The big advantage is that at a long dining table on each chair you hear about the same. “Here comes the sun” just floats around in space, and that description is true for all music that tends towards a large soundscape. For example, “The Age of Immunology” by Vanishing Twin, or “To Believe” by The Cinematic Orchestra (with the wonderfully thin voice of Moses Sumney – striking proof that there are R&B singers who are technically strong). What you have a bit less is a feeling that there are musicians somewhere specific on a stage – and that is also typical for a room-filling speaker. Is that an advantage or disadvantage? It depends on how you want to listen to music. If you want higher quality lounge music in the background, towards Khruangbins 'The Universe Smiles Upon You', then the Balance is really good. If you listen more carefully, we would set the Balance a bit clearer via the app. We think the Bang & Olufsen house sound is a bit too dark, which is a personal preference. Fortunately, you quickly adjust the sound to your own liking. Note that the Balance is not a pure 360 ​​° speaker. It really does have a front (where the logo is) and there you have a higher sense of detail.

The room calibration function works fine by the way to tackle some disturbing things. Somewhat surprising, because in the end it only takes a few seconds to set up. More extensive measurement functions, such as on AV receivers, can easily take 15 to 30 minutes. The most noticeable impact was mainly in the low. The BeoSound Balance produces quite heavy bass – which is also a surprise to visitors who first thought they were dealing with a lamp and then heard a thumping techno playlist.

Conclusion

Should a speaker be an anonymous be rectangle? It is an issue that they have been working on at Bang & Olufsen for some time. Their quest to build an interior-friendly wireless speaker reaches a successful – and undoubtedly: provisional – endpoint with the BeoSound Balance. What the Balance is not is discreet. It is quite large, but remains an elegant appearance that proudly displays its design kudos. The finish and choice of materials is at the level of a better design furniture, and the price tag actually too. What do you get for that significant additional cost compared to mainstream products? Excellent streaming options and the possibility to combine the BeoSound Balance in a multi-room system. A sleek music reproduction that rolls nicely through even larger rooms, fine-tuned by the built-in room correction. You may buy it first for the looks, but the sound quality certainly does not disappoint.

  • Chromecast and AirPlay 2
  • Can be combined with other B&O and third-party speakers
  • Room correction function
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